Must we be either ignorant or biased? A solution to Gendler’s dilemma.

In ‘On the epistemic costs of implicit bias’ (2011)  Tamar Szabó Gendler has argued that knowledge that some prejudices are widely shared among one’s peers causes one to become implicitly biased. As a result individuals face an ethical- epistemic dilemma: either they wilfully try to become ignorant of facts about their society or they accept that they will behave in a way that they judge to be morally wrong. In the first part of this talk I argue that thinking of explicit prejudice and implicit bias as attitudes (as this notion is understood in social psychology) offers a solution to the dilemma. Mere knowledge of the existence of shared prejudices can cause one to become biased only if it is allowed to become part of attitudes about the target of prejudice that have social-adjustive functions. In other words, it is only if we are inclined to share the preferences of other members of our society, that knowledge of those preferences causes one to adopt them (perhaps implicitly). In the second part I discuss some strategies that may be effective in changing the contents, strength or function of attitudes so as to weaken the effects of implicit biases. Insofar as implicit biases figure among the causes of underrepresentation these strategies should be of assistance when addressing this complex issue. Finally, I develop an account of implicit biases as components of attitudes which are ambivalent or whose cognitive and affective parts are inconsistent. Implicit biases are in my account a symptom of a failure to develop fully some intellectual virtues such as courage. Explicit prejudice, instead, may be more symptomatic of a range of intellectual vices.

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